“Best Picture” Is Not Necessarily The Best Picture

Barry Jenkins

Barry Jenkins

Oscar has its quirks, often enough overlooking a truly great film, with the heavy gold statuette going to the film of the moment (at least the Academy’s moment). Perhaps most famously, “Citizen Kane” lost out to “How Green Was My Valley” in 1941. Two Scorsese masterpieces were surpassed by two actors’ first (and very respectable) directorial efforts: in 1981 “Raging Bull” was knocked out by Robert Redford’s “Ordinary People;” and “Goodfellas” was shot down by Kevin Costner’s “Dances With Wolves” ten years later.  Sometimes, as in 2005, even a mediocre film triumphs–“Crash,”directed by Paul Haggis, was chosen over Ang Lee’s groundbreaking “Brokeback Mountain.”

In the perpetual will win/should win game, Oscar 2017 edition, Barry Jenkins’s sublime “Moonlight” (which swept yesterday’s Independent Spirit Awards) is the latter. “La La Land” will probably dance away with the little gold man.

I have two other (wobbly) predictions. Maren Ade’s nearly three-hour father/daughter dramedy (in German), “Toni Erdmann” will and should win Best Foreign Language Film. (Ade’s feature is soon to be re-made in Hollywood starring Kristen Wiig and the great Jack Nicholson, possibly miscast. Too old at 80?)

Maren Ade

Maren Ade

Isabelle Huppert, who, as the film critic Jim Hoberman once wrote, is possibly the most essential actor in the world, should (but will she?) win the Best Actress  for her staggering performance in Paul Verhoeven’s nasty, riveting thriller, “Elle.” The Oscar is the rare award that Huppert hasn’t yet won for the roles in her unmatched filmography.

Isabelle Huppert

Isabelle Huppert

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Where’s Faso? Or, What if They Held a Town Hall and the Congressman Didn’t Show Up?

Kingston, NY, 2/24/17

Kingston, NY, 2/24/17

KIngston, NY, 2/24/17

Kingston, NY, 2/24/17

I vote in New York City, in the 10th Congressional district (“the fighting 10th,” as Colbert would have said in his Report days), which is represented by the brilliant, progressive Democrat Jerry Nadler, who recently introduced a Resolution of Inquiry, potentially a first step on the path to Trump’s impeachment.

House Resolution 111, “directs the Department of Justice to provide the House of Representatives with any and all information in its possession detailing criminal investigations, business investments by foreign governments, violations of the Emoluments Clause of the Constitution or the Ethics in Government Act, among other requirements, involving the President or other Executive Office employees.”

The Republicans on the House Judiciary Committee are currently trying to prevent debate on the House floor of Nadler’s resolution and he’s fighting back, repeatedly calling out cowardice when he sees it. I call Congressman Nadler’s Manhattan office once a week to say thank you.

I’m not well-matched with John Faso (R-NY19), a tea party extremist, who represents the upstate district that includes Stone Ridge. Faso*, another Republican profile in courage, was MIA at the recess town hall meeting, held Friday night at the George Washington Elementary School on Wall Street in Kingston.

An overflow crowd, 500+, filled the auditorium at the “empty chair” town hall, joining a panel to discuss crucial issues, including the environment, education, health care and immigration. Outside, in the balmy February night (it was still 65º at 7:30 pm–great, but not good), another 450 people (as estimated by a young Kington cop) rallied, chanting and holding up signs, and listening to speakers.

RESIST.

Kingston, NY, 2/24/17

Kingston, NY, 2/24/17

Kingston, NY, 2/24/17

Kingston, NY, 2/24/17

Kingston, NY, 2/24/17

Kingston, NY, 2/24/17

Kingston, NY, 2/24/17

Kingston, NY, 2/24/17

*Someone involved with the Faso campaign stole one of my portraits of Zephyr Teachout (originally shot for Bill Moyers Journal), his Democratic opponent in the 2016 election and popped it into a Koch-brothers template website, using it large across the top . I discovered the unauthorized reproduction during Labor Day weekend and had the image immediately taken down.

The website slammed Teachout for her progressive politics, of course, but also for being an an “elitist,” a professor at Fordham University School of Law.

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The Labrador in Winter Celebrates His Quinceañero

Leo, Stone Ridge, NY, 2/12/17

Leo, Stone Ridge, NY, 2/12/17

Leo, 15 today, is our big, beautiful, beloved odds defier (and “commands” defier–after he turned 14, we decided that come, stay, sit, etc., would be regarded merely as suggestions. This doesn’t apply to you, Ryder).

He smells a little, not from dog breath or from rolling in animal remains or from eating frozen deer poop (although he sometimes does that–poopsicles, we call them), but from being older. I love the smell.

I often stand over Leo as he sleeps sprawled on the floor, watching to see his chest rise. He takes fewer breaths per minute than I do, and sometimes I worry as I wait for the slow sign that air is entering his long body.

Today we’re celebrating Leo’s quinceañero. Vamos a bailar y a comer mucho (por supuesto) con nuestro perro perfecto y con su hermano menor (perfecto también).

Happy birthday, dear Schmoo, and many more.

Leo, Stone Ridge, NY 2/5 and 2/4/16

Leo, Stone Ridge, NY, 2/5/17 and 2/4/17

Leo, Stone Ridge, NY, 2/12/17

Leo, Stone Ridge, NY, 2/12/17

Leo, in the Groverkill, Stone Ridge, NY, 1/1/17

Leo, in the Groverkill, Stone Ridge, NY, 1/1/17

(And happy birthday to my dear friend Camille in LA.)

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Mayhem in Marbletown

Jack Fessenden and his father, Larry Fessenden, NYC, 1/18/17

Jack Fessenden and his father, Larry Fessenden, NYC, 1/18/17

Sextuple threat (director, writer, actor, editor, co-producer, composer–and that doesn’t include poster designer, soundtrack musician and co-chef for his cast and crew) Jack Fessenden shot his very assured debut feature, the clever and bloody thriller, “Stray Bullets,” in July 2015, when he was 15.

Long-time friends, upstate New York high school students Ash (Asa Spurlock, who also plays cello on the film’s score, and could be Ezra Miller’s younger brother), a talented golfer, and Connor (Fessenden), a mechanical whiz, meet up early at  Richie’s Repair. They’re picking up a package containing a paint gun and ammo that Connor had bought and surreptitiously had delivered to his part-time workplace.

Their plan for the day is to help Ash’s father, JT (Robert Burke Warren), with a long-neglected job, cleaning out his old (but appealing) trailer in the woods. But it’s sunny and summer and the boys find time to talk to girls and blast paint at trees.

The same morning in New York City, three over-the-hill petty criminals’ current caper goes seriously awry and they head for the hills (the Catskills) in a green/gold and white 1974 Dodge Dart. Charlie (horror maestro Larry Fessenden, who also served as the film’s cinematographer and co-producer), is seriously wounded, bleeding profusely on his perfect sleazy suit (wardrobe/production designer and co-producer, Beck Underwood, Jack’s mother) and onto the backseat’s perfect vintage upholstery. The trio’s enraged victim, Kaufman, dispatches Nick (Kevin Corrigan), a flinty hitman, to recover his oversized gold Rolex and briefcase.

Safely out of New York but short of their destination, the gang breaks down on a rural road, across from Marbletown Park and its pavilion. Hiding the car, Cody (James Le Gros, behind black sunglasses and sporting extravagant facial hair), Dutch (John Speredakos) and Charlie also fade from sight.

A feeling of uneasiness hits Ash as he enters JT’s trailer and sees a gun on a chair, but before he and Connor can flee, Dutch emerges from the rear, Cody from outside, and waving weapons, force the frightened teens onto the small sofa.

To reveal more of the story would destroy the suspense and gory entertainment (fun until it isn’t). Suffice it to say that bullets and bodies fly, and Connor and Ash’s carefree summer/lives are over.

“Stray Bullets” will open today at Village East Cinema and a Q&A with Jack Fessenden and friends will follow the 9:00 pm screening. There will also be a Q&A on Saturday, February 11 after the 7:00 pm show. From Friday, February 10, “Stray Bullets” can be watched on Amazon and iTunes (where the soundtrack will also be available).

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Darkness in the Sunshine State

Tim Sutton, NYC, 6/17/16

Tim Sutton, NYC, 6/17/16

American loneliness, ennui, longing for fame, and romance with guns collide in “Dark Night,” writer/director Tim Sutton’s hypnotic waking dream. The film opens with an extreme close-up of a young woman’s right eye reflecting flickering images which seem to be from a movie screen but are revealed in the wider shot to be the spinning lights on emergency vehicles, parked a short distance from where she sits on the curb, stunned, wearing a tank top sporting the American flag.

Flashing back to earlier that day, several Sarasota County, Florida teenagers and young adults involved in their ordinary routines, and an “interview” with a concerned mother and her deeply alienated son in their living room, are exquisitely photographed by cinematographer Helene Louvart. A gun-owning vet, uncomfortable with home and family, Summer, an endlessly selfie-shooting aspiring model/performer, skateboarders (who glide by each other in a  stunning shot), Jumper, an angry 20-something with otherworldly turquoise eyes, and a girl who’s bored at work in a discount clothing store, move through eerily empty landscapes. The mall parking lot is nearly carless and a neighborhood of small, tidy houses flanked by tropical foliage is so devoid of the neighbors that one resident can stomp through, aiming his large gun without being noticed. Stills of the roads from Google Earth show few people, lots of cars.

The indistinct lyrics of trance-like songs (composed and performed by Maica Armata) and peripheral reminders of the 2o12 movie theater massacre in Aurora, Colorado, contribute to an atmosphere of dread. More than one of Sutton’s characters (all effectively portrayed by nonprofessional actors) seems likely to slip sanity’s bonds for a crazed catharsis of violence. And as the would-be shooter strides purposefully to the multiplex, carrying a duffle bag of weapons, his face finally relaxes into a smile. Flickering images from a movie projector follow, and heard on the soundtrack, likely the most unnerving cover of  “You Are My Sunshine.”

“Dark Night” will open at Alamo Drafthouse Downtown Brooklyn on Friday, February 3. Q&As with with Tim Sutton will follow the 6:30 pm show (also on Saturday, February 4 and Sunday, February 5).

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If It’s Tuesday, It Must Be 780 Third Avenue

#ResistTrumpTuesdays, NYC, 1/31/17

#ResistTrumpTuesdays, NYC, 1/31/17

As Democrats on the Senate Finance Committee were boycotting scheduled votes, stalling the confirmation of two #SwampCabinet aspirants, Steven Mnuchin for Treasury, and Tom Price for Health and Human Services, a crowd of a few hundred demonstrators gathered in falling snow on the sidewalk in front of Senator Chuck Schumer and Senator Kristen Gillibrand’s New York offices.

The energetic crowd, attending the second Tuesday rally at 780 Third Avenue in as many weeks (#ResistTrumpTuesdays will continue in NYC and nationwide for at the least the first 100 days of the new administration) loudly opposed Trump’s Cabinet nominees, the Muslim ban and the border wall. Allies–fired Acting Attorney General Sally Q. Yates, Senator Kristin Gillibrand, with her perfect NO voting record on the swamp creatures, and Senator Chuck Schumer (who has promised thumbs down on the remaining unconfirmed nominees)–were vigorously applauded.

On Third Avenue drivers in trucks, cabs and cars, immigrants and descendants of immigrants, honked loud and long in solidarity.

#ResistTrumpTuesdays, NYC, 1/31/17

#ResistTrumpTuesdays, NYC, 1/31/17

#ResistTrumpTuesdays, NYC, 1/31/17

#ResistTrumpTuesdays, NYC, 1/31/17

#ResistTrumpTuesdays, NYC, 1/31/17

#ResistTrumpTuesdays, NYC, 1/31/17

#ResistTrumpTuesdays, NYC, 1/31/17

#ResistTrumpTuesdays, NYC, 1/31/17

#ResistTrumpTuesdays, NYC, 1/31/17

#ResistTrumpTuesdays, NYC, 1/31/17

RESIST.

Posted in Photography, Photos, Politics, Protest | Tagged , , , , | 4 Comments

Mary Tyler Moore 1936-2017

Mary Tyler Moore, NYC, 1/19/06

Mary Tyler Moore, NYC, 1/19/06

Mary Tyler Moore, the pioneering and iconic actress, who “turned the world on with her smile,” died today in Greenwich, CT. She was 80.

Moore’s eponymous series (for which she won her three of her six Emmys) was must-see TV in my suburban household. I admired her beauty, charisma, talent, wardrobe, hair. But it wasn’t her significant style that exerted the greatest influence. When I was growing up, a woman’s place was said to be in the home (and with the era’s economy, families were able to get by on one salary). Neither my clever mother, nor her friends, nor Abby, Stephanie or Andi’s mothers had an outside job.

I learned to be a woman in the world, at work, from watching Mary Tyler Moore as Mary Richards, TV producer at WJM in Minneapolis. When, at our shoot, I told her this, she replied, “Marlo Thomas didn’t do it for you?”

Maybe the quote sounds snarky written here, but it wasn’t. It was self-effacing and funny. And somehow I managed to resist throwing myself at Moore’s feet, chanting, “I am not worthy.”

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